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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's Parliament failed to elect a new president for the financially struggling country in the first round of voting Wednesday, leaving another two tries before the government falls and early elections are called.
The conservative-led government's candidate, former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas, received 160 votes — far short of the 200 needed — with all opposition parties rejecting his candidacy.
If a second ballot on Dec. 23, which also requires 200 votes, is inconclusive, a third will take place on Dec. 29, when a reduced tally of 180 votes would suffice.
With no victor, parliament would be dissolved and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras must call snap national elections in early 2015, a year and a half before his mandate expires.
"What happened today opens the way to (parliamentary) elections," said Fotis Kouvelis, head of the small Democratic Left party, a former coalition partner.
The left-wing Syriza party, which wants to renegotiate Greece's international bailout, is ahead in opinion polls, but with too small a lead to govern alone.
The uncertainty, amid stalled negotiations with Greece's creditors, has hammered Greek stocks and bonds just as the country was nearing the end of its bailout and edging out of a six-year recession.
The two-party governing coalition has 155 seats and requires backing from opposition or independent lawmakers to ensure Dimas' election.
"There are another two rounds ahead of us," Samaras said while leaving parliament Wednesday. "I hold hope that a (new) president will be elected. The conditions are difficult for the country, and I am certain that lawmakers are aware that the country must not enter troubled times."
Earlier Wednesday, Samaras' office said a vote for Dimas would mean avoiding "a political adventure that could prove fatal to (Greece's) European course."
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said he is confident snap elections would be held, saying: "Very soon our people will play a leading part in developments."
That possibility, comments about reversing reforms, and hints about the possibility of Greece not repaying some of its debts have spooked international markets.